COVID-19 Impact – A Fayetteville Arkansas Case Study

Corona Festival and Band Impacts

Watkins Family Hour – Fayetteville Roots – Photo: LTTL
Smokey & The Mirror – Photo: LTTL

Festival – Fayetteville Roots

Band – Smokey & The Mirror

Corona Virus Impact

Fayetteville Roots Festival

Nestled in the far north-west corner of Arkansas, the picturesque College town of Fayetteville is easy on the eye and a vibrant, supportive arts, culture and music hub.

The Fayetteville Roots Festival is one of many key events to celebrate the rich artistry of the region. It was established both as a music and culinary showcase. Founded by Bernice and Bryan Hembree (music) and Jerrmy Gawthrop (cuisine), the festival is dedicated to showcasing what makes this region of the Ozarks so unique.

The festival features a diverse musical style rooted in many musical styles such as folk, blues, bluegrass, jazz, country, and more. The festival also supports local farmers, chefs and restaurants, focusing on locally grown produce, locally raised meats and local produce from the Ozarks.

Smokey & The Mirror

As well as being musical festival curators, Bernice and Bryan Hembree are Smokey & The Mirror.

This husband and wife duo are Fayetteville residents and have toured nationally and internationally over the past decade.  They tour most often as a duo, but also play many shows a year as a four-piece band. 

Great harmonies and engaging songs are a feature of the band which is a welcome mainstay at Fayetteville Roots. They have supported tours Old Crow Medicine Show, The Wood Brothers, I’m With Her, Elephant Revival, John Fullbright, and more.  Their last album was 2019’s Here and Now.

Listening Through The Lens caught up with Bryan and Bernice recently, following the announcement that the 2020 Fayetteville Roots Festival has been postponed until next year. We discuss the festival and the band and how the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted both.

The Festival:

LTTL: First off, what are the current public health rules and guidelines for residents in Arkansas?

B & B: Today, June 10th our state has decided to proceed to the next “phase” of re-opening.  That means allowing more capacity at restaurants and bars and allowing more capacity at formal gatherings – albeit the number of positive cases and hospitalizations were at their highest today.  The public health recommendations (no strict rules are in place here):  wear face coverings when in a contact with anyone outside your household, keep a safe distance, and proceed with caution if feeling sick.  I’m not sure what the thinking is of our elected official leaders, but to us it seems like the business economy is of utmost importance regardless of public health. 

This would have been the 10th or 11th Roots Festival.  You would have faced numerous obstacles in presenting the event over that period, particularly I imagine in the first few years.  What were some of those obstacles that you overcame?

Oh yes, we’ve experienced and overcame some obstacles.
The first year, 2010, a major water pipe busted during the early part of the festival day.  The venue, our partner’s restaurant at the time, flooded… the parking lot became a pond.  Musicians were helping to place sandbags in front of the venue to help with the flooding!  Bryan made a phone call to a local venue – one of the oldest and most renowned in the area, George’s Majestic.  With luck they didn’t have anything that Sunday evening and allowed us to move the festival to their venue.  It was a quick switchover that everyone handled with grace and patience…a memorable first year.  In the years that have followed we’ve had to deal with other short notice venue changes, nasty weather this past year, and bands canceling moments before they were slated to be on stage.

Just recently, you announced the cancellation of the 2020 edition due to COVID-19 health issues. Organisers of many similarly-affected events have adopted usually one of three approaches – postpone until later in the year, do an on-line version of some sort or simply cancell the gathering altogether.  What led you to choose the latter option?

We decided to postpone the lineup until 2021 due to the uncertainty surrounding many parts of the festival.  The allowed gathering size for late August is still uncertain, many chefs gave notice that they wouldn’t be able to attend due to crisises in their restaurants, many musicians have had their entire summer tour canceled and wouldn’t be routing through as expected.  SO so many dominos fell that we felt it was necessary and smart to push until next year.  The lineup for this year was fantastic and we didn’t want to produce an event that was 50% of what it could be.  So, we will wait until 2021 and present what we have been dreaming of and planning for.

You have such wonderful community support and much local goodwill for the Festival.  How has the decision to cancel been received locally?

Yes, this community in Northwest Arkansas is special.  Many festival patrons have attended every year of the festival – they “get” what we do.  They know we want to give them the best experience possible and they trust us to make decisions in their best interest.  We take that responsibility seriously.   It was a sad decision for us to make and I believe our patrons could feel our hearts breaking when they read the announcement.   Our community has been supportive of the decision to postpone and many have sent notes of support.

Your proposed line-up this year was pretty spectacular (Shovels and Rope, Mandolin Orange, Peter Rowan, Hayes Carll, Iris Dement, Ray Wylie Hubbard and The Lone Bellow, to name a few).  Are you hoping to re-sign some or most of those artists for 2021?

Yes!  We are thrilled that the 2020 artists and chefs are able to move the date to August 2021.

What are the locked-in dates for 2021?

Yes – August 26-29, 2021

The Band

Smokey & The Mirror has toured nationally and internationally and supported the likes of Old Crow Medicine Show, I’m With Her, Elephant Revival and John Fullbright.  You’re usually a duo but do expand up to a four-piece depending on the setting.  As well as wiping out the festival scene, the negative impact from COVID-19 on bands such as yours is hard to get our heads around.  Let’s explore the impact for you as musicians.
Your latest album Here and Now was I think released in March 2019 so presumably you were able to get a good run promoting that locally. Tell us about the Denmark Project

The Denmark Project stems from our love of touring that country and playing music with MC, Nikolaj, and Jacob of the band, The Sentimentals.  We met MC Hansen in Kerrville Texas during the Kerrville Folk Festival.  A fellow folkie passing the guitar around the campfire.Considering Bryan’s love of Danish furniture and my wanderlust, it didn’t take much to convince us that we should travel to Denmark.  The Americana music scene in the Scandinavian countries is strong and the crowds are supportive of American artists.  After a couple trips to Denmark and many songs shared with MC, we decided to record an album together.  Songs were written, studio time reserved, and out popped the album, The Denmark Project.

You had plans to tour Denmark I believe.  What were those plans and what is the status now?

Of all the heartbreaks this touring season, canceling the Denmark travels was the hardest.  We were looking forward to being back there and playing some of their glorious summer festivals, but that will have to wait until 2021.

On your site, you don’t have any gigs listed (not surprisingly!).  When do you think you will be able to return to the stage, at least locally?

We have played a few virtual concert series, and a couple weeks ago – when the restaurants were allowed to reopen – we played a very socially distanced live show.  After many online shows, playing to real-life humans again was fantastic!  I’m not sure when things will pick back up here, but we are really looking forward to playing live music again.  I’ll never again complain about hearing the talkers in the back, or the clank of beer bottles being thrown, or the awkward silence of an audience.  This strange time of online concerts has really made us miss the human connection.  The loss of that connection is strongly felt and makes me appreciate the audience even more.

You have both been creatively involved in music education and songwriting programs.  Has this work been affected?

The education work has been impacted similarly to the live performance work.  Aside from an online harmonica lesson, all other lessons have been put on hold.   But starting in July, I’m thrilled to be scheduling in person lessons again – with new precautions in mind.   Personally, I don’t get much from online music so I’ll be SO happy to get back to in-person work.  That personal connection is crucial for me.  Bryan has had several online songwriting sessions with his favorite songwriting partner.  Having more time at home has certainly given way to songwriting craft.

I have been reading some great things about your Roots Meals for Musicians program.  Could you tell our readers a little about that?

Our music community, like all others in the country, has been hit hard.  The loss of income for gig economy workers is severe.  The mission of our organization is music AND food.  So, it made sense that we could partner with area food providers to organize meals for our music community.  Over the years of the festival we have built strong connections with many area restaurants and farmers and food providers, so it was easy to make a few calls and ask for help to put a care package together.   We live in a fantastic place that is willing to support the community and that support has been humbling.   We are happy to be easing some stress and brightening the day of someone who needs it.  And hopefully that uplifts them to go home, cook a meal, sing a song, and share hopefulness with their family and friends.

On another note:
For many years we have recorded video & audio sessions with artists as they travel through Fayetteville – either for the festival or to play at our small venue, the Roots HQ.  That archival material has been put to good use.  Each day, Bryan and I have submitted songs from the Roots archives to a local radio program, Ozarks at Large.  We have aired 45 songs since March. 




Smokey & The Mirror Photo: Meredith Mashburn


Corona Festival and Band Impacts

Corona Festival and Band Impacts

Corona Festival and Band Impacts

Corona Festival and Band Impacts

(Visited 208 times, 1 visits today)

Author: Rob Dickens

Share This Post On
468 ad

Leave a Reply